To a middle-aged male who's never had any kids, The Business of Being Born was nothing short of a revelation. No one's ever told me that hospitals are a rather late addition to the birthing process, that many of the procedures mothers go through are for the hospital's convenience, not the mother's, and that, despite spending more per birth than any other country in the world, the U.S. has the second-worst infant-mortality rate among developed nations. Why aren't the presidential candidates talking about this? And where is the Ralph Nader of the baby-delivery biz, a whistle-blower who'll just keep on blowing until people get tired of covering their ears? Well, we may now have one in the somewhat unlikely form of actress/talk-show host Ricki Lake.
Lake got put through the ringer while delivering her first child and swore to never sign up for that again. Her second child we welcome to the world the moment she does, courtesy of video footage that recorded her home birth using a midwife. That's just one of the several babies we see squeezed out of their mothers' wombs in Abby Epstein's up-close-and-personal look at a process that, the documentary asserts, has been taken over by doctors, lawyers and insurance companies. In 1900, 95% of the births in this country took place at home. Today, it's less than 1%. What happened? Epstein rounds up the experts to explain how what was once considered a blessed event came to be seen as a medical event. And although you'd kind of like to hear what the medical community would say in its defense, she makes a strong case.
She also includes home movies of home births, and these should go a long way toward showing the American public that natural childbirth does not mean, as one of the husbands here says he used to think, "having a baby in a barn somewhere." On the contrary, it means getting in tune with the cosmic rhythms that cause these millions of tiny miracles every year.